CALGARY – Canadian air travelers are seeing an increase in flight cancellations this holiday season, but airlines say weather is a bigger factor than COVID-19.

According to airline data company Cirium, Canada’s largest airlines canceled hundreds of flights between December 22 and December 26 of this year.

Flair Airlines canceled nine percent of its scheduled flights during the period, while WestJet Airlines Ltd. canceled seven percent of its flights.

Air Canada canceled four percent of its scheduled flights during the period.

The proportion of canceled flights was significantly higher than in early December, when the cancellation rate for major carriers hovered around 1-2%, and also higher than at the same time during the pre-holiday season. -pandemic of 2019.

South of the border, U.S. airlines have reported canceling a significant number of flights over the past week due to staff shortages related to the Omicron variant. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said the spike in nationwide cases this week had impacted flight crews and left carriers understaffed.

But in Canada, airlines say the weather has caused more disruption to vacation travel than COVID-19 so far this year.

“The past few days have been among the busiest since the pre-pandemic, carrying nearly 50,000 guests a day on more than 500 flights at the peak,” WestJet spokeswoman Morgan Bell said in an email.

“We are not seeing issues similar to our US counterparts and the vast majority of our published cancellations are weather related.”

Frigid temperatures and arctic air have shaken most of the western provinces this week with wind chills dropping as low as -55C.

Environment Canada says all of Alberta and most of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, as well as parts of Manitoba and Ontario, are subject to extreme cold warnings.

Air Canada, which canceled 171 flights from Dec. 22-26, said unfavorable winter conditions were the main factor.

“We have the crews to manage our schedule, so we haven’t been affected like some other carriers have been by COVID-19,” a statement from the airline said.

Porter Airlines spokesman Brad Cicero said the flights had performed “generally well” over the past week. He said the limited cancellations that have occurred are largely due to weather conditions and aircraft maintenance, although a small number have been linked to “staffing”.

Flair Airlines admitted to seeing an increase in sick calls from staff and crew, but said it was generally expected at this time of year.

“Currently the biggest challenge for us, and probably for most airlines, is that the ups and downs of the pandemic have caused staffing issues on the ground and at the airport due to the long lines. and an increase in the number of passengers, “said Matthew Kunz, vice president of Flair. president of business transformation and operations.

Air Transat spokesman Pierre Tessier said the company had not canceled any flights in the past few days due to personnel issues related to the rising Omicron variant, “and does not expect any cancellation for the moment “.

Several Canadian airlines have said they have seen travelers cancel their vacation plans due to the increased number of cases, although they said they also continued to see demand for new bookings.

The federal government is requiring employees of Canadian airlines, as well as passengers departing from Canadian airports, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

– With files from The Associated Press

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Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press